After Her Mom’s Cancer Diagnosis, This Writer Changed Her Whole Life To Help—Here’s How That’s Affecting Her Finances

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Photo: Getty Images/Ron Levine; Art: W+G Creative

You know where your friends get their hair done, what their dream job is, and even the details of the most recent fight they had with their partner. But what about their salary? Or how much they spend on athleisure every month? For some reason, talking about money remains taboo for many.

That’s where Well+Good’s Checks+Balanced series comes in. Think of it as a space to inspire more open and frank conversations around money—especially regarding how different people are able to afford the wellness habits that are important to them.

Here, *Natalie, a 35-year-old living in Alabama, shares how caring for her mother—who is battling cancer—has affected her finances and how she still budgets for the wellness habits that are important to her. (Hint: So many succulents.) Keep reading for a complete look at her income and budgeting tips.

Scroll down to see how Natalie manages her finances while helping to take care of her mom, who is battling cancer.

caring for a parent and finances
Art: W+G Creative

Natalie, 35, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Income: $60,000 per year. Until this past January, I lived in Dallas, where I had a government job and made $60,000 a year. I'm also a certified hypnotist, so I was in the process of building a side business, which would bring in some additional extra income.

I ended up moving home to Tuscaloosa, though, after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer because she lives alone, and I knew she would need help. Coincidentally, my brother was moving to Dallas at the same time as I was leaving, so I gave him all my furniture, piled up the rest of my belongings in the car and drove to Alabama.

I quit my job before I left, and now I'm a full-time author—writing books is something I've wanted to do since I was a child. So when I was presented with the opportunity to write professionally and publish my first book last year, an anthology, I jumped at it.

Now I'm working on my second book, about adulting. (That deal isn't finalized yet, which is why I'm keeping my identity and the title under wraps here.) Right now, I'm living off my savings of $7,000, and I'm depending on my next book deal to help me support myself. I received $2,500 from my first book, and I anticipate making six figures from my next book deal.

Rent: $0 per month. Now that I'm living with my mom, I don't have any rent or mortgage payment.

Recurring expenses: $263 per month. Since moving home, my expenses have shrunk drastically. I don't have to pay utilities or cable. My car is paid off, but I do spend about $120 a month on gas. And I also have a Netflix account ($13 a month) and HBO ($15 a month). As an author, my business expenses are low because, really, all I need is my laptop which I already own, but I do pay $30 for my website-hosting and domain and $10 for a graphic design app called Canva, which I use for social media. I also have a dog, and I would estimate I spend $75 a month related to things like food, toys, and vet visits.

Parent care: $400 per year. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mom underwent a full hysterectomy and then an additional surgery to remove cancerous tumors that were found in her midsection. She's still recovering from that, so I've been her hands and feet for about seven months now. Anything she needs—whether it's helping feed her or going out to get the mail—I do.

Taking care of my mom doesn't have many recurring expenses for me, per se, beyond the $400 I spent moving. My mom is paying for her own medical expenses, so I am not financially responsible for them. Still, the choice to take care of my mom has affected my income greatly. Not only did I quit my job and move to Alabama to help her, but because she needs my help so much during the day—cooking for her and running errands, among other tasks—I can't focus solely on writing my book proposal, which is what all my income is depending upon now.

Healthy food: $400 per month. I do the grocery shopping and cooking for my mom. It's not safe for her to go to the grocery store right now amid the pandemic since she is immunocompromised, and she isn't really able to get around the kitchen and cook because she doesn't have the energy to move around too much. I follow a plant-based eating style, but my mom is a true Southerner and believes meat should be the center of every meal. Buying food for two people—who eat completely differently—has definitely made my grocery bill more expensive.

I split my shopping between Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Sprouts. I like going to Trader Joe's to find things you can't find anywhere else—they have some great specialty products, like vegan crab cakes and kale tots—but I get my staples at Whole Foods or Sprouts. Though I don't cook as well as my mom does, she's at least polite and tells me she likes what I make.

Fitness: $0 per month. I have a dog, so I get a lot of exercise walking her three or four times a day. Otherwise, I use free yoga videos on YouTube to work out.

Beauty: $100 a month. I don't wear much makeup, but oils are a big part of my skin-care routine. I use rose-hip oil (which moisturizes and heals skin), castor oil (which is anti-inflammatory and moisturizing), and coconut oil. Between those and other skin-care products, like facial cleanser and body wash, I spend about $100 a month. I've found Trader Joe's to be a great place to find inexpensive beauty products.

Other wellness habits: $310 per month. In terms of other wellness habits that are important to me, I love using my humidifier (I brought it with me from Texas). I also have a diffuser, and I enjoy buying essential oils for it, spending about $20 or so every few months on them. My favorites are lemon, orange, lemongrass, and rose.

I also love buying plants and probably spend $75 a week on small succulents and plants because they just make me so happy. I've realized during the pandemic how important the little joys you find in life are, and investing in plants is one of mine. Spending time in prayer is also a big part of my wellness routine—I do lots of praying and journaling.

My eventual goal is to move back to Dallas, but I want my mom to be completely better and able to take care of herself before I do so. Right now, I'm just spending this time with her and focusing on my writing. I'm not quite sure what the future holds or how long I'll be here, but that's the plan for now.

*Name has been changed.

Want to learn more about how you can save to successfully navigate caring for an ill or injured loved one? Head to Fidelity for advice on emotionally and financially planning to become a caregiver, choosing your care options, and having constructive conversations with your family throughout the process.

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